Expat Life FAQs
Expat life is full of variety, change and adjustment. Each expatriate life has its own challenges and needs. Here are some of the questions almost all expatriates ask at some point in their expatriate experience:
How do I …
Create new Family traditions?
“Family traditions counter alienation and confusion. They help us define who we are; they provide something steady, reliable and safe in a confusing world” (Susan Lieberman).
It’s good to think about what is important for yourself and your family in terms of traditions in your new place, because as the quote above says, they bond us together and provide a sense of security. Start by thinking through the traditions you take with you from your past. Then add holiday or other traditions of the culture in which you are living into your life, adding to the richness of your family traditions. Do this consciously and intentionally, in a way that fits your family and circumstances.
Bridge the language gap?
The key insight we offer is that language learning is not something you do so you can begin to communicate with those around you – the language learning process itself is communication, a social activity. In other words, you can be building bridges to the community right from the very first day, spending time and communicating with those around you. Seeing language learning as a social activity does not necessarily make it easier, but it makes it a lot more fun and you really can make progress every day – even if it seems that your language learning has taken a step backward on a particular day, you will have expanded your social contacts.
Identify culture shock?
The feeling of disorientation, adjustment, isolation – not knowing where your place is – can affect an expat at any point in his or her journey. The simple exercise of thinking about and recognizing how you are reacting to your particular situation can open up new ways to cope, adjust and thrive! So what is it? Flight? Fight? Fun? Fit? Or a mix?
Self-identity is an important issue for everyone, but it can be an especially important and sometimes difficult issue for expats, when nobody calls, texts, knows your name or can share experiences from the past. Even self-confident expats can struggle with self-identity issues at different points in their lives.
The fundamental mistake in thinking that cripples healthy self-identity development is letting environment shape our story, and interpreting how we think about ourselves by the cues around us. Your expat experience makes you a richer and more unique person. Your intercultural experience strengthens your self-identity instead of weakening it.
Make new friends?
Friendship seems to be a result of a chance meeting – as if you need to wait until it ‘happens to you’. What does friendship mean to you and how will you meet new people who could become friends? It is important to attend events where you could meet people with common interests, whom you would like to have a friendship with. An essential part of this process is that you think about what friendship means to you and what friendship means in the culture you are entering. Spending time thinking through these issues will help you set reachable goals for yourself and ultimately gift you with friendships that add value to your life!
Say goodbye well?
Sometimes we don’t spend enough time saying goodbye well – it doesn’t seem important, there isn’t really time for it, or… it is too painful. When you can say goodbye in an intentional, constructive way, you pave the way to enter your new surroundings intentionally and positively.
Stay connected with my partner?
Even if you do see eye to eye with your partner on many things, you do not create the exact same experience in your new environment. It’s vital to maintain open lines of communication about the struggles and successes of day-to-day life where you are. The fundamental thing to remember is to communicate your love for your partner in ways that he or she can understand. There is no better way to stay connected (or reconnect) with your partner than to hear, feel and experience his or her love, especially when you are both adjusting to a new environment.
Deal with nostalgia and homesickness?
What is the difference between ‘nostalgia’ and ‘homesickness’? Are they both inevitable, negative emotions, which should be left behind as soon as possible? Or can these sentiments be used to foster well-being and help the expat connect with his or her new community?
• Nostalgia is a normal psychological ‘defense mechanism’ that is used to fight against the negativity of homesickness and turn it around for good. Homesickness is an emotion that tends to lead one into a negative emotional spiral, which can lead to depression and dysfunction.
• Nostalgia contributes significantly to well-being. Nostalgia roots a person in his or her past, and thus helps establish a good and positive self-identity. It can also help you bond with new friends as you share stories from your past with them.
Live freely in an unsafe environment?
Many expats live in areas that are considered ‘unsafe’. How can you keep fear of your unsafe environment from isolating you and your family? How do you still freely explore and experience the positive parts of the place in which you now live? The best advice we got when we moved to a high crime area was from a co-worker who said, “Don’t live in fear. Be informed, and if you want to take a walk, take a walk.” Collect information on the country from a variety of sources…and then listen to the most reliable ones. Decide what your own ‘safety threshold’ will be and ask yourself at what point will you decide it is too risky to stay in the country? Find out what ‘the locals’ do and don’t do and what they consider ‘dangerous’ and try to keep in with traditions and customs. If you have children then shield them from anything they don’t need to know about, so that they avoid feeling fear, but be firm with rules as to what they can and can’t do in this area.